Voter-approved pay parity initiative in Houston ruled unconstitutional

On May 15, Judge Tanya Garrison of Texas District Court 157 ruled Proposition B (2018) unconstitutional. Proposition B was an initiative granting pay parity with city police to Houston firefighters.
Proposition B was placed on the 2018 general election ballot in Houston through a citizen initiative campaign led by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. The measure was designed to match city firefighters’ pay to that of the Houston Police Department. It was approved 59 percent to 41 percent in November.
The proposition provided for a 29 percent raise for firefighters in the first year, followed by additional raises equal to police pay. Prior to the measure’s approval, city officials had estimated that Proposition B would cost $100 million per year. The proposition could not be funded through increased taxes due to an annual revenue cap. Mayor Sylvester Turner had argued that the city did not have a funding mechanism for Proposition B.
Following approval of Proposition B, the Houston Police Officers’ Union filed a lawsuit against the city and the firefighters’ union, arguing that the measure was unconstitutional for the following reasons:
  • It violated Texas Local Government Code by setting firefighter pay relative to other municipal workers instead of private sector jobs;
  • It is preempted by the state’s Fire and Police Employment Relations Act; and
  • It is preempted by state policy on collective bargaining rights by forcing police bargaining to also encompass firefighter pay.
Judge Garrison granted the motion by the police officers’ union, stating that Proposition B is preempted by state code regarding fire and police employee relations and that it violates Article XI, Section 5 of the state constitution.
Following Judge Garrison’s ruling on May 15, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association tweeted, “We will continue to strive to force Sylvester Turner to respect the will of 298,000 [sic] Prop B voters who sent a strong message that Houston should equally value its police and fire personnel.”